We now move on to statements on the migrant integration strategy. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, and invite him to commence the debate.
Migrant Integration Strategy: Statements
I welcome the opportunity to discuss the migrant integration strategy, which the Government launched on 7 February 2017. I have arranged for copies of the strategy to be made available to Senators in the Seanad anteroom.
The strategy is intended to help us to chart a way forward along the path of successful integration, building on the positive outcomes we have already achieved and setting achievable and realistic goals for the future. We consulted widely on the strategy, which has been developed over an extensive period. I thank all those who contributed, not least Senator Ó Ríordáin, whose leadership in the early stages of the process helped us to reach this important milestone.
Over the past two decades, Ireland has become an increasingly diverse country. Census 2016 reveals that just over 800,000 of those currently resident in Ireland were born outside the country. A little over 600,000 people speak a language other than English or Irish at home. This in an increase of 19% over the 2011 figure. At the same time, the figures reveal a strong commitment to Ireland among those born elsewhere. Just over 100,000 people are now dual citizens of Ireland and another country. This confirms the strong interest among many persons of migrant origin in becoming Irish citizens and in making a permanent commitment to Ireland.
Ireland’s record on integration has been quite positive so far. Significant progress has been made over the past two decades to integrate migrants into Irish society. The actions taken by successive Governments, as well as by the business sector, civil society organisations and local communities, have achieved positive outcomes for migrants in key areas. The degree to which migrants have integrated into many Irish workplaces is a particular success story. Social inclusion measures have ensured that migrants do not experience significantly higher risks of poverty because of their migrant status. In 2012, the differentials in the "at risk of poverty" rates for citizens and third country nationals were narrowest in Ireland of all EU member states.
Integration plans have been devised for key sectors. The intercultural education strategy has focused on enabling students to experience an education respectful of diversity while assisting education providers to ensure that integration becomes the norm within an intercultural learning environment. The National Intercultural Health Strategy 2007-2012 provided a framework for action by the health service to respond to increasing cultural diversity. A new intercultural health strategy will be developed as one of the actions foreseen under this integration strategy.
Equally, many businesses recognise the importance of managing workplace diversity successfully. Some 50 companies in Ireland representing well over 100,000 employees have signed up to the diversity charter to demonstrate their commitment to diversity. Many more companies have developed expertise in managing workplace diversity well. However, we cannot be complacent. We know that there will be challenges ahead. The record of other EU countries demonstrates that ghettoisation, isolation, or indeed poorer outcomes, particularly for second generation immigrants, can create problems very quickly. We also have to avoid the growth of racism within the host population. If we are to realise the benefits of integration, we need firstly to avoid some of the pitfalls that have developed in other countries. There are great benefits for Irish society if we get our integration model right.
This migrant integration strategy has been framed in the understanding that the integration process is becoming increasingly complex. The composition of the migrant population is ever more diverse. Migrants come from diverse cultures, religions, backgrounds and experiences. Some are English-speaking and some are not. While the recent focus has been on the refugees coming to Ireland under the Irish refugee protection programme, many migrants are now well-established in Ireland and have been here for some time. The strategy needs to be sufficiently flexible to encompass refugees and economic migrants, those who are new to Ireland and those who have spent their lives here.
The context within which this strategy has been developed is also complex and subject to change. We are currently experiencing a migration crisis on Europe’s borders. It is likely that this crisis will continue for the years ahead, with migrants continuing to try to come to Europe to escape conflict, persecution and limited economic opportunities. Undoubtedly the countries of origin of those migrants may change but the pressure to move northwards and westwards may not. Brexit introduces another variable into the equation. Its impact is not yet known. What is known is that it will be an additional factor that migrants will take into account when considering future life choices. The risks of populist, anti-immigrant movements and the radicalisation of some of those of migrant origin in other EU countries have been well signalled.
We have the opportunity to avoid the mistakes of other societies. We must avoid in particular the segregation and isolation of migrant communities. Segregation can fracture shared understandings between migrant and non-migrant populations. This can lead to the growth of racist sentiment. It can also lead to the loss of economic and social opportunities for migrant communities.
The principal aim in this strategy is to promote the ability of migrants to participate actively in Irish society and to foster a sense of belonging within this society for them. The strategy builds on the foundation of what has been achieved so far. It recognises that mainstream services have to place a renewed focus on integration to ensure that migrants gain equal access to such services. Equally, it proposes a range of targeted measures to address barriers which prevent migrants from realising their full potential. We have to recognise that some migrants, particularly the refugees coming into Ireland under the Irish refugee protection programme, may have complex needs and may need targeted services.
The migrant integration strategy is intended as the framework for the Government’s action on migrant integration for the period from 2017 to 2020 and has been devised to respond to the new challenges that we anticipate in the years ahead. It will run from 2017 until 2020 and is targeted at EU and non-EU nationals, including refugees. It is also targeted at foreign-born Irish citizens and their children.
Our focus for this strategy is to build on the good practices already in place and to provide further supports where necessary. We must replicate existing successful initiatives. Equally, we must ensure that areas needing attention are identified and measures taken to address any problems. The actions and recommendations contained in this strategy cover a wide range of very important areas including, among others, access to public services and social inclusion, education, health and employment. It builds on the existing approach to combine mainstream services and targeted initiatives to address specific needs. Its key message is that integration is a two-way process that will involve change and responsibilities both for migrants and for Irish society. It aims to communicate the message that successful integration is the responsibility of Irish society as a whole.
It seeks to encourage action by Government, public bodies, service providers, businesses, NGOs and local communities, and encouraging action by local communities will be a key element of the strategy.
One issue that emerged repeatedly in the consultation process for this strategy was the need to ensure individuals and families are fully integrated into local communities. They risk being unaware of information or opportunities if they are not linked to the community and official networks on which others rely. The strategy puts forward a number of initiatives to reach out to groups and families that may be isolated from mainstream society. It proposes to use networks as a means by which migrant and non-migrant groups and organisations can get to know one another and through which migrants can raise issues of concern. Dublin City Council, for instance, will set up a network targeted at hard to reach migrant groups building on a model pioneered by New York city.
Similarly, a network will be established for schools outside the established system to inform them of child protection and health and safety obligations. We intend to use this network as a means of establishing relationships with such schools, many of which operate outside any form of oversight but which are interested in being compliant on child protection etc. It is intended that such networks will be used as a means of communicating information but also of building shared understandings with regard to norms and expectations.
Reaching out to young people is a particular concern within the strategy. Older teenagers and young adults can turn away from existing youth structures, particularly if they experience family pressures not to mix in opposite-sex groups. The strategy proposes that the youth sector will look at ways of engaging with these young people of migrant origin in order that they get the chance to develop and maintain relationships with their peers within Irish society.
The strategy seeks to address areas where migrants are under-represented. It includes actions that seek to improve the representation of migrants throughout the public service. It proposes that a target of 1% will be established for the employment of European Economic Area, EEA, nationals and people from minority ethnic communities within the Civil Service. This will be monitored for progress towards the target. Initiatives will be taken to raise awareness within migrant communities of the opportunities presented by careers in the Civil Service. I see this as an important step towards ensuring the Civil Service is more representative of the population of Ireland as a whole.
Similarly, an awareness-raising initiative is planned to encourage under-represented groups, including migrants, to apply for appointment to State boards. The aim is to raise awareness among migrants and persons of migrant origin of opportunities on State boards in order that they can be encouraged to apply for such opportunities. Getting more diverse voices onto State boards should yield benefits in two directions. Migrants will gain access to wider decision-making opportunities in society. In turn, State boards will benefit from a wider pool of talent and expertise.
The consultations held with migrant groups during the process of drafting the strategy confirmed that migrant organisations are especially interested in the area of political participation. They want to see higher turnout by migrants in relevant elections. They also want the political parties to encourage more migrants to become involved, including as potential candidates. In response, the strategy includes a number of actions to encourage greater participation in political life by migrants. The first step is to encourage more migrants to register for and vote in elections.
Ensuring mainstream services understand and are responsive to migrant needs is very important. The strategy proposes that integration will be mainstreamed into the work of all relevant Departments and agencies. It proposes ongoing intercultural training for front-line staff of Departments. It also reiterates the need for information for migrants in language-appropriate formats. English language proficiency emerged as a key concern in consultations with migrant groups. They want to see more targeted language training and greater opportunities for progression. The strategy proposes to include a language component in education and training programmes for unemployed migrants with a poor knowledge of English. The role of the education and training boards will be crucial in ensuring these opportunities are available, including to enable migrants to develop the language skills to access skilled employment.
While employment rates are broadly similar for migrants and non-migrants, one group, namely, Africans, have much lower rates of employment than the norm. The Department of Social Protection is undertaking an initiative to examine the reasons Africans have lower than average rates of employment. Our concern is to ensure employment opportunities are available to African migrants on an equal basis with other groups. We also want to tackle any risk that Africans might get locked into intergenerational exclusion from the labour market. More broadly, initiatives are planned to ensure migrant needs in skills acquisition and labour market activation are addressed.
As I have said, many employers have gained experience in managing diversity effectively. Many businesses have developed expertise in managing diversity in their customer base. There is a role now for business to communicate that expertise within the wider society. The strategy seeks to encourage businesses to focus more on using their corporate social responsibility activities to promote integration. The work to engage with the business sector to encourage its ongoing activities to manage workplace diversity will continue. Equally, initiatives are being undertaken to promote migrant entrepreneurship using EU funding streams.
The health service is a very good example of a system that has adapted to meet the challenges of diversity. However, some of the refugees coming into Ireland at the moment have complex health needs. This may require additional resources within the health service to deal with their needs. The proposed second national intercultural health strategy will provide a framework for addressing the needs of this vulnerable cohort.
The issue of data gaps has been raised repeatedly in past years. While progress has been made in collecting data on ethnicity and nationality, including in the census, there are still gaps in key areas. The absence of robust data inhibits our ability to understand migrant needs fully or to plan effectively for changes to or for future demands on services. The issue of reporting of race-related incidents is a facet of this problem. The strategy proposes to establish a working group under the auspices of the Department of Justice and Equality to examine data and reporting issues.
Successful integration starts at local level. The community is the key to ensuring that families feel truly at home in Ireland. With this in mind, I have established the communities integration fund which will provide small grants to local organisations and community groups to promote integration across the country. I am very pleased that there has been a great response to the initiative. I will announce details of the successful applicants next month. In addition to this fund, the Department of Justice and Equality separately issued a call for proposals for national projects to promote integration. Again, the response was exceptionally positive, with a large number of applications received. I will announce details of the successful proposals soon.
As our population changes, its needs will also change. I anticipate that the challenges that we are likely to face in terms of integration will evolve over the period to 2020. I will chair a strategy committee of Departments, agencies and NGOs that will oversee the implementation of the strategy and examine how it needs to adapt to meet the challenges ahead. Implementation and monitoring of the strategy will be very important. Having concrete targets that can be measured will also be important. The strategy committee will begin its work next month. It will set targets for action and monitor progress towards meeting them. The inclusion of members of the NGO sector in the implementation process will be of great importance in ensuring that issues of concern are identified and action taken to address them as appropriate. A review has been built into the strategy in order to enable it to be adapted if significant new challenges emerge over the next 18 months.
The increased diversity of Ireland’s population has brought great benefits for our country. It has enhanced our skills. It has brought a talented workforce capable of responding to the increased demands of the global economy. It has enabled us to withstand the economic turbulence of the past decade. If we are to continue to realise the benefits of diversity, we need as a society to focus more on integration. We each of us have to play a part in promoting integration, in challenging racism and in ensuring that our workplaces and communities are inclusive of all. The migrant integration strategy offers the blueprint for engaging Government, communities, workplaces and individuals in the vital task of making integration a success for all of us.
I look forward to hearing the contributions of Senators and to working with them on the strategy into the future.
The Minister of State will make his closing remarks at 6.25 p.m. and statements will conclude at 6.30 p.m. Group spokespersons have eight minutes and all other Senators have five minutes. I call Senator Murnane O'Connor.
I welcome the Minister of State. Fianna Fáil welcomes publication of the new migrant integration strategy. Strong and effective policies are required to ensure that new Irish communities integrate successfully into society here. It is also essential that we learn from the experience of other societies so that we can anticipate any problems stemming from migration to Ireland. The new migrant integration strategy was published in February this year and it foresees actions applicable to all Departments and those intended to address particular issues. One of the biggest issues is information to migrants and language. It must be provided in an appropriate format and there must be ongoing intercultural awareness training for all front-line staff.
Language barriers relating to schools and health services, including GP services, also need to be addressed. The Government must ensure that there is provision of information on local authority housing, welfare benefits and so on. These issues have to be addressed. There must also be initiatives to address migrants' needs in terms of skills and labour markets and to encourage the business sector to play a role in promoting integration. A working group must be established to examine data gaps in respect of migrant needs and experience and a migrant integration strategy development to respond to the challenges of promoting integration in the context of such increased diversity.
There have been many good news stories in this area, including in Ballaghaderreen which welcomed over 80 Syrian refugees in February. On arrival, these refugees were presented with welcome packs comprising nappies and toiletries provided by local pharmacies, buggies, etc., donated by mothers and books donated by bookshops, including some in Arabic. A number of weeks ago, there was a fabulous article in The Irish Times about members of the local community having invited the Syrian refugees to engage with them in a game of soccer. According to one of the participants, "It was great craic. Language is a barrier ...". We need to address the language barrier issue. It is heart-warming to hear such stories. These people have been through so much and we can only imagine that their needs are complex. Strong and effective policies are required to ensure that the new Irish communities integrate successfully into Irish society. It is essential too that we learn from the experience of other societies so that we can anticipate any problems stemming from migration into Ireland.
Over 80 Syrian migrants are due to arrive in Carlow over the next few months, in respect of which a protocol is being worked on. Is there EU funding available to subsidise migrant needs in terms of housing provision and to address the issues for children in particular, including the language barrier issue? All of this work requires everybody working together. I will be working with my local authority to address these issues. A few years ago a community of Rohingya came to Carlow. It was a marvellous successful story. St. Catherine's community services played a huge role in that regard. As I said, this requires that all relevant bodies and communities work together in their efforts. However, funding is crucial.
I welcome this initiative. Fianna Fáil will work with the Minister of State to implement it.
I welcome the Minister of State. I also welcome publication of the migrant integration strategy, which contains a number of concrete, key measures that are worth highlighting. These include: the establishment by local authorities of networks aimed at reaching out to hard-to-reach migrant groups to help them to engage with Departments and to provide information on their needs; the establishment of a communities integration fund intended to support organisations in local communities, sports organisations, faith organisations and so on to undertake actions to promote the integration of migrants into their communities; the monitoring of current school enrolment policies to address their impact on the enrolment of migrant students; the inclusion of a language component in education and training programmes for unemployed migrants with poor English proficiency; initiatives to ensure that migrant needs regarding skills acquisition and labour market activation are addressed; and initiatives to encourage the business sector to play a role in promoting integration.
I am more hopeful now than at any point in the past 12 months because anti-immigrant platforms are being defeated across Europe. The outcome of the US election, along with Brexit, tapped into a psyche across western democracies that pro-migrant policies would push political parties off an electoral cliff. Chancellor Merkel's brave decision in 2015 to take in hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees on foot of a global outcry regarding the treacherous and often fatal journeys children and adults were taking to get to Europe was broadly heralded at the time as one taken in spite of the political risks involved. However, it was subsequently panned by public pundits who predicted that the wave of populism which delivered Brexit and the US would crash onto the European Union's shores. We were told that the people of the Netherlands would elect a person who is openly Islamophobic, but this did not happen; that a candidate from a former Holocaust denying anti-immigrant party would be elected president of Austria, but it did not happen; that Marine Le Pen, which her anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant trappings, would become President of France, but this also did not happen; and that Chancellor Merkel would pay a big political price for the decision to open Germany's borders to those fleeing appalling strife. As recently as last Sunday, however, Chancellor Merkel was winning state elections and looks set to be returned to power in September.
The US President issued an executive order which, in effect, would have led to Muslims being banned from the United States.
The national outcry created by this action brought people of all races and hues together in what has been one of the strongest fight-backs against any presidential decision I can recall. From 28 to 31 January, almost 50 cases were filed in federal courts seeking to prevent the order from coming into being. I was one of thousands of protesters who gathered at airports and other locations throughout the US. The first Muslim ban was withdrawn and a new one developed but this order was also halted by the US courts thus preventing it going into effect.
I welcome these initiatives proposed by the Minister and the global tide that is shifting against anti-immigrant rhetoric but I must ask the Minister about the 4,500 people in direct provision in Ireland. What moves are being made to accelerate their cases for adjudication? Direct provision was set up as a temporary measure in 2000 and here we are 18 years later, where very little has changed in the lives, conditions and supports for these people. Some families have been in direct provision for up to ten years. I know of a case of three women from Africa from different cultures and different countries sharing one room. I know of parents trying to support children in their home countries on the pittance of €19 per week. This cannot continue. The conditions they are living under are unacceptable. Their children can attend secondary school but cannot receive third-level education. They are unable to avail fully of social welfare or housing supports. Can the Minister of State tell me how far advanced is the Department of Justice and Equality in implementing the findings of the working group on improvements to the protection process chaired by Dr. Bryan McMahon, which was published in June 2015?
I welcome the Minister of State back to the House. He is a regular visitor at this stage. I commend my Opposition colleagues on their contributions thus far. I salute Senator Lawless for the great work he does on behalf of the undocumented Irish in Chicago and throughout the US. In essence, he is now a roving ambassador on behalf of the people of Ireland in that regard. The impact of the work he is doing is immense. This strategy is very welcome and I welcome its publication. What has been proposed is laudable and I sincerely hope it is achieved. Measures like 1% of the Civil Service reflecting our new ethnic communities are welcome, positive and significant.
I will pick up on what Senator Lawless about direct provision. It is a disgrace. I know the Minister of State is genuine in this regard because he was chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality for five years but it is time the Civil Service was told what to do. We need to close down direct provision and relocate those families in decent accommodation where they can reach their own potential. We need to fast-track the application process. Much has been achieved and the McMahon report is great but what measures in the report have been implemented? Let us be honest, the easy recommendations have been implemented. The hard ones have not been implemented yet. Civil servants trot out the line that 60% or 70% of the recommendations of the report have been implemented but I want to see the difficult recommendations implemented. I would go a step further. I believe there should be a timeline in the very near future for closing down direct provision centres. Senator Ó Clochartaigh and I visited a couple of direct provision centres during the lifetime of the last Oireachtas. One could not but be horrified at the conditions. The sense of isolation and being cramped and the lack of dignity were frightening. I repeat what I have stated in this House previously, which is that a future Taoiseach will stand up in Dáil Éireann and give an apology to the people, particularly the children, who have been in direct provision for a decade and possibly even longer.
Our policy regarding Syrian refugees has been very positive and our communities have had very positive experiences in this regard. I see Senator Hopkins is present and the leadership she showed in Ballaghaderreen should not go unnoticed in this House. My home town of Ennistymon has nine Syrian families. I think it works out at 48 individuals. They are wonderful people who I meet in the street all the time. When they are out playing and talking to people in the community, they change from Arabic to English immediately to make it comfortable for the people living around them to engage with them. They are making an effort and we are making an effort, to be fair. Although the North West Clare Family Resource Centre based in Ennistymon has received no additional funding, it has set up homework clubs and an English teaching club. The Syrian children are going to the crèche, which is threatened with closure. It is bizarre. We pick communities that have services and facilities, and rightly so, but we are not meaningfully putting money into those communities. I hope the Syrian crisis is resolved very soon but that is wishful thinking. We probably will be welcoming people from other countries - Syrians and other nationalities from war-torn countries - for many years to come. We need to establish centres of excellence and identify communities that open not just their homes and hearts but their communities and ways of thinking. As many ordinary, decent people and communities are showing immense leadership in this regard, the Government needs to support them. The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, is an incredible Minister in this area. His heart is in the right place but I fear that he is probably not getting the level of support he should be getting from Cabinet. Direct provision has been in place since 2000 or 2001. That is a specific example in this area. We had a boom and a bust and we now have a recovery but we still have direct provision. Now we have a recovery, we need to make policy decisions, drive them home and show leadership. Regardless of whoever the new Taoiseach will be, the first issue I will raise with him or her - I have already spoken to the two main contenders - will be my wish to see definitive action on direct provision. People like Senator Ó Ríordáin showed immense leadership but unfortunately, he was appointed too late. Had he been appointed in 2011, direct provision would be gone now.
We are where we are. All we can do is look to the future with positivity. This House has a unique role to play in showing leadership. We have all shown leadership. Even in the previous Seanad, motions were tabled in this regard. Within Fine Gael, I will be criticised for criticising but we are here to call it as it is and do the right thing. I believe we are doing good work in terms of the Syrians but we have a lot more to do and a lot more ground to cover. Certainly, we need to put resources into the communities that have welcomed the Syrians. Direct provision, however, is a national scandal.
Go raibh míle maith agat a Leas-Chathaoirligh. Tá áthas orm a bheith ag leanúint an Seanadóir Conway agus an Seanadóir Lawless ar an ábhar seo. Fáiltím roimh na ráitis laidre atá déanta acu. The Minister of State is very welcome to the House.
There has been a little bit of political light-footedness on this issue. We were actually calling for a debate around the International Protection Act 2015, its implementation and direct provision. Certainly, the integration strategy is very welcome. It is a very laudable strategy and I welcome it. There are some fantastic initiatives in it. The elephant in the room, however, has to be direct provision. I note that there was no mention of direct provision or the International Protection Act 2015 in the Minister of State's speech. I might be subject to correction on that but I do not think either of them were referenced. They are really the elephants in the room with regard to this issue.
Will the Minister of State give us a clear statement of where he stands on direct provision? It is very important. I have been extremely critical in these Houses over recent years of direct provision and of the way it has been introduced. Direct provision was dreamt up on the back of a cigarette packet by a Fianna Fáil Government. It is a privatised system which has been called an open prison. For the people who live there, the only difference between it and an open prison is that they do not know when their sentences will end. I engage with people who are staying in the direct provision system regularly and their sense of hopelessness at the moment is much greater now than it was before the McMahon report. They feel the report was a whitewash and that it has actually cemented direct provision and formalised it within the system, even though, at the time, it was brought in as a temporary measure which was not supposed to last more than a year. How can a Government stand over a system like this? There is no HIQA oversight. I welcome the recent extension of oversight to the Ombudsman and the Ombudsman for Children because there are many issues around direct provision that the people within the system wanted to raise.
If this is framed in the context of the Minister of State's own migrant integration strategy, there is a vision for that strategy which has a number of key elements. The first is that, "The basic values of Irish society are respected by all". Most people in Ireland would say it is a basic value to be able to have one's own roof over one's head. People in direct provision do not have that right. They are housed within a system in which whole families are living in one hotel room and where, as Senator Lawless has correctly outlined, there may be four individuals of the same sex staying together in one room. Some of them may have mental health issues. That is absolutely true. I can point them out to the Minister of State in the Eglinton Hotel or the Great Western Hotel in Galway if he would like. Individuals are staying in rooms with other people who are absolute strangers to them and may be there for a number of years.
The right to education is also something that people in Ireland would certainly respect and honour. This Government and our State still have not signed up to the EU directives on the right to work and the right to education. Can the Minister of State tell us when we are going to live up to our international commitments around these rights? I know there were a number of positive developments in the McMahon report concerning the right to education that would recognise the rights of younger people going on to third level education, but they were very restricted. Unless children have been in the secondary school system for five years, they cannot access the grants available to allow them to access third level education. There have been some fantastic philanthropic initiatives in which certain people have sponsored people into third level - I know that from my own experience - but the State should recognise the rights of all these young people within the direct provision system. They should be allowed a right to work and a right to education.
The second value in the vision which I note is that, "Migrants are enabled and expected to participate in economic life – in employment and self-employment". How does that pertain to people in direct provision? I have met bankers, journalists, record producers, nurses, carpenters and an astrophysicist, all of whom are in the direct provision system. They are fantastic people. Anybody who has the wherewithal to make it from whatever war-torn country or whatever difficulties they were in, to get to Ireland and land in a direct provision system had huge resourcefulness within them. They are fantastic people but they feel bereft within a system that does not allow them to work. What is the Minister of State going to do about that, because it needs to be addressed?
"Migrants interact with the host community and participate with them in cultural, sporting and other activities while preserving also their own traditions as they wish." That is very important. Next Saturday in Galway is Africa Day. We celebrate that every year and it is a wonderful occasion. My children love it because of the food, the colour, the dance, etc. A lot of the people there are, again, in direct provision. They are people who would certainly love to be able to get their own space in the community.
"Migrants have language skills sufficient to enable them to participate in economic life and in the wider society." There has been a huge issue recently, of which the Minister of State will be aware, around the implementation of the International Protection Act 2015. The new single procedure process involves a lengthy and quite complex questionnaire. I have been at a number of public meetings with solicitors who work with people in direct provision, people in direct provision themselves and organisations such as Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland, MASI, the Irish Refugee Council, Doras Luimní, Nasc, etc. That questionnaire caused absolute consternation. I know the deadline for applying was extended. There were issues around the language used in it. There were translations of that document available, but my understanding was that the translations were appalling in many cases. People had great difficulty understanding what they were doing. There were questions around whether Google Translate had been used. There was a huge issue around access to people with language skills who could translate for people in asylum.
There are also issues around access to legal advice on filling out that questionnaire. There are not enough people available through the legal services for people seeking asylum in this country. There are issues with the quality of the knowledge that some of those people have and them not having enough expertise in the specific area of asylum, which is a very complex legal area. The Minister of State might address that and let us know how that process is progressing.
"Migrants, and particularly their children, benefit fully from the education system." I have mentioned education but the direct provision system is appalling for children. It is appalling for families that children have to be supervised outside a room if they are in a hotel-type building. They have to supervised in any of the communal areas because there are child protection issues. Children are not able to bring others home. If children have a birthday party, they do not have any space in that building to bring guests up to their own rooms. The natural domestic life an Irish family would take for granted is not afforded to those people in direct provision. There has been talk of extending the self-catering opportunities available to people in direct provision. I am not sure how successful that has been but when one has only €19.80 a week, making food available and being able to cook in those centres is certainly questionable.
I agree that direct provision needs to go. We are spending above and beyond €53 million a year. How accountable are the companies for the €53 million that is being spent? My understanding is that some of these companies have made over €10 million in recent years. Some of these companies are listed offshore, so we cannot see their accounts, etc. Why is this system not being run in a more humane way? Why do we not have a State-run system or one that is run by a non-governmental organisation? Why do we not have a system in which much more accountability, training and services would be available? The staff in many direct provision centres are very good people but they have no specific training in the necessary aspects of the job around social work, psychology or health. I have visited quite a number of centres. The Oireachtas joint committee produced a report on it as well.
We will go easy this time, but we will be calling the Minister of State back for another debate on direct provision in the very near future and we will expect movement to have been made toward the eradication of direct provision before we have an international scandal on our hands.
I welcome the Minister of State back to the Chamber to discuss Ireland’s migrant integration strategy. It is something that is very close to my heart and I welcome the initiative. As we know, Ireland is an increasingly diverse country. CSO data from 2016 show that roughly one in ten people living here define as non-Irish, while last year saw net inward migration to the State for the first time since 2009. A significant number of people are also seeking to build a life in Ireland to contribute to our communities and our wonderful country. Immigration is a positive and permanent reality in Ireland and we must celebrate the diversity that comes with it.
As the strategy recognises, integration is a two-way process. It is not about asking people to simply adapt to their new homes but about recognising that the State and wider civil society must make every effort to do the same. Real integration is proudly asserting that migrants should not be asked to blend in or to disappear into the crevices and margins of Irish society but to become a fundamental and central part of it. Overall, how we treat migrants says a huge amount about who we are as a people. Since 2011, the citizenship ceremonies held across the country are examples of Ireland at its best – inclusive, welcoming and open.
They realise the reputation of the céad míle fáilte and look beyond legal acceptance to a sense of social inclusion and belonging. In the past four years, more than 85,000 people from more than 160 countries have become Irish citizens, widening and enriching our definition of what it means to be Irish. This is the spirit in which we must proceed.
Around the world, we can see an alarming increase in xenophobia as migrants are continually scapegoated, stereotyped and demonised. We see politicians across the Atlantic and the Irish Sea shamefully exploiting people's fears and whipping up anti-migrant sentiment. This trend is toxic, and Ireland must lead the fight against it. We must strongly reassert the positive contribution that migrants make to their new countries.
I am happy to see that €500,000 will be made available this year for local community integration projects. In particular, music, culture and the arts are hugely beneficial in bringing communities together. Much has been said about how ordinary people in towns and villages like Ballaghaderreen have rallied to welcome Syrian refugees to their communities, and I can only further commend these efforts. They are a credit to the country. It is, however, vital that the Government does not simply rely on community and non-profit organisations to do this work. The State must ensure adequate resources are provided for the provisions outlined in this strategy. Commitments to expand English language training programmes must be well funded. Similarly, intercultural awareness training for staff in the public sector is welcome, but we must ensure the proper interpretation and translation supports are provided, especially in the context of health care and education. The citizenship ceremonies themselves are fantastic occasions but they cost €1,125 to participate. This is clearly prohibitive for a huge number of people. The strategy commits to reviewing this fee, but no more. I hope the Minister will support a reduction in that fee.
Beyond this, two stories from last month showcase the best and the worst of how things can work in Ireland when it comes to migration and integration. In April, a young man named Muhammad made his debut for Michael Davitt's GAA club in Belfast. Muhammad is a Syrian refugee who arrived in Ireland with his family from war-torn Aleppo. We cannot imagine the difficulties and hardship that he and his family have faced and the kind of terror that has caused so many to flee in recent years. He lined out for the Davitt's under 10s last month, scoring two goals in his first game with his new team mates. Pictures circulated quickly of him standing proudly in an O'Neill's GAA jersey after the game, and it was impossible not to be moved by the beaming smile across his face. It is brilliant that Ireland can give Muhammad and his family a new chance and a new life, but it should make us reflect on how much more we can do. Callous inaction and low commitments from European leaders are seeing people die on Europe's borders. We should not be congratulating ourselves for meeting tiny EU quotas for refugee resettlement. We should be asking why these figures are so low in the first place. We can and must do more to show compassion to people fleeing persecution and war.
Just a few days after Muhammad played that game in Belfast, a mother living in the direct provision centre in Eglinton in Galway had to carry her sick child for two miles to hospital, because she could not afford the bus fare. The Galway Anti-Racism Network spoke to The Irish Times about the case and others like it, including a woman living in the centre who had to walk the two miles home with her newborn baby because the €19 per week she is forced to live on cannot cover the cost of transportation. Can one imagine the stress and anguish of that situation and how difficult that must be?
The migrant integration strategy does not account for these women because it does not directly address how asylum seekers are treated by the State. The strategy applies only to EEA and non-EEA nationals, including economic migrants, refugees and those with legal status to remain in Ireland. This is very disappointing. How can we talk credibly about the integration of migrants in this country without considering the thousands of people living in direct provision centres throughout the country? The design of this strategy means that direct provision falls outside law and policy again. Direct provision is a scandal. I have raised the issue in this House previously, but the treatment of people who are feeling some of the worst abuse in the world is shameful. Some 4,500 people are locked in this system and they are forced to live on €19 per week. They cannot engage in education beyond the leaving certificate. They lack basic cooking facilities and sleep in small, cramped, communal rooms. The disastrous mental health effects are well known. Research from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland has shown that depression and mental health problems are five times as high in direct provision as in the wider community, coupled with feelings of isolation and a loss of self-esteem. People remain in this system for up to a decade, which has been repeatedly condemned by human rights organisations. It is shameful. Who benefits from such a system? Who benefits from keeping talented, ambitious, enthusiastic people from realising their potential? It is certainly not the State as it makes a mockery of its commitment to cherish all children of the nation equally. It is not the people living in carceral institutions who are denied their basic rights and dignity. Ultimately, the beneficiaries are the network of contractors running these centres on a for-profit basis. Last year, eight companies were paid €43.5 million to provide these centres. Is this the best use of our resources?
As we try to come to terms with the abuse inflicted on people in the mother and baby homes, the Magdalen laundries and other State and religious institutions, we often look back and ask ourselves how this happened. This is how it happens. It happens through endless discussion in committees, through reports left to gather dust and through the slow, cruel inaction of the State. It happens through a migrant integration strategy that says nothing about the 4,500 migrants trapped in a system that denies them their basic human rights.
The strategy also does not apply to the estimated 20,000 or 30,000 people who are undocumented and living in Ireland today. This is unacceptable. We cannot on the one hand plead with the United States Administration for justice for the undocumented Irish people living in America while ignoring the plight of those people living here under similar circumstances. Undocumented migrants' lack of legal status prevents them from accessing basic rights and protection, and a substantial number of people live in a state of constant fear. Many are concentrated in non-unionised, low-paid sectors where exploitation is common and no reasonable means for redress exists.
I must ask the Senator to conclude.
Economic integration is an essential precursor to real integration for migrants. This situation cannot continue. I urge the State and the Minister of State to work closely with civil society organisations like the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, the Irish Refugee Council and the Immigrant Council of Ireland. I thank the Acting Chairman and I apologise for going over time.
I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Stanton, to the House today and for facilitating this important debate on the migrant integration strategy. My contribution will focus on the integration of the individuals who have come to Ireland as part of the Irish refugee protection programme which was established in 2015. This was a direct response to the developing humanitarian crisis in many countries.
As the Minister of State is aware, I have had, and continue to have, extensive involvement with the emergency reception and orientation centre which has operated in my home town in Ballaghaderreen in County Roscommon since the middle of March. I was in the centre again yesterday and I am there quite regularly. It is lovely to hear contributions from other Senators from throughout the country about the leadership shown by Ballaghaderreen in welcoming these people. It was lovely to see smiles on faces and the fear gone from many faces of those who use the centre. By the end of this week it is expected we will have approximately 200 refugees in the EROC centre in Ballaghaderreen.
We know that the mass migration of people is a very complex global issue that could probably be described as the biggest challenge facing the world. Conflict and violence continue to be the main reasons for so many people having to flee their homes. An estimated 65 million people are displaced, 40% of whom are children. We know from the emergency reception and orientation centre in Ballaghaderreen that about half the current refugees are children. This challenge demands that the international community works together. Ireland needs to play its part. Ireland has agreed to accept 4,000 refugees under the Irish refugee protection programme. We know that progress has been slow initially, but the number of people coming to our shores is now increasing. We also know that the people who are coming to our shores have been through very difficult situations and have suffered so much. Many have unaddressed and undiagnosed medical needs.
Many of the children have never attended school or have missed years of schooling. This migrant integration strategy is important because it envisages a whole-of-Government approach to assisting the integration of these individuals into Irish society.
From my experience in recent months, I am aware that there are challenges with the process of integration. Greater co-ordination at the early stages is necessary to ensure that local service providers are fully briefed on their obligations. In Ballaghaderreen, County Roscommon, there was an information gap and some of these issues continue to obtain. We enable refugees to access mainstream services such as those relating to health, education and social protection. To make this integration process as effective as possible, there needs to be greater communication with local service providers, such as general practitioners, schools, child care facilities, education and training boards and all of the other necessary services, in order to support these individuals at their point of arrival.
The Minister of State indicated that the health service is a good example of a system that has adapted to meet the challenges of diversity. I disagree with this. The Minister of State will be aware that I have raised serious concerns about the obligations of the Health Service Executive, HSE, and the Department of Health in supporting the refugees who have come to Ballaghaderreen. The HSE, following significant pressure from the Minister of State, commissioned Safetynet to operate the mobile screening unit. That was funded through the Dormant Account Fund. However, it is not good enough that money from dormant accounts is being used to support the health needs of these individuals. We need to ensure that the Department of Health and the HSE live up to their obligations and responsibilities in providing additional resources to deal with these needs. When I visited the health centre, the manager highlighted difficulties, particularly with regard to dental care, which are not being addressed.
I commend the people of Ballaghaderreen and the friends of the centre who have done so much in a short time to welcome these people, as has been mentioned, through sport, music, etc. I continue to receive numerous calls regarding the donation of clothes and time. This is real integration and it is extremely positive.
I commend our local Foróige club, which won the national citizenship award two weeks ago.
I must stop the Senator. She has gone way over her time.
Teenagers within this group reached out to their counterparts in the Syrian refugee programme at the centre. I commend them on their actions. I will continue to work on this matter.
I welcome the Minister of State. The Immigrant Council of Ireland has welcomed the strategy but the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland has effectively rejected it on the basis that it does not involve enough time-sensitive elements and needs to be more concrete in the context of what is trying to be achieved.
I agree with what many other Senators said on integration and immigration issues. These are scary times. Notwithstanding what was said about Trump and Brexit, which was effectively an immigration debate, I am not necessarily as positive as Senator Lawless about recent elections in Europe. Basically, one third of the French electorate voted for a person who is a fascist and a racist. Up to 49% of the Austrian public almost elected a neo-Nazi as president. In fairness to Ireland, we have never had a mainstream political party adopt immigration as a platform at a general election. Minor parties have done so but have had little support at election time. No major political party has listed as a priority in its election manifesto anything about immigration, curbing immigration or any xenophobic platform. We need to be thankful for and recognise that.
We should not be complacent, however. Notwithstanding what has been said, I was somewhat taken aback by self-congratulatory statements regarding the political reaction to what happened in Ballaghaderreen. I remember different things being said by political representatives there before the people made their decision as to how they felt about people coming to their villages. I recall political representatives from that area being a little bit less than welcoming. It was the people - the local shopkeepers and the community - who welcomed the Syrian refugees into their arms. Then the political system began chasing after the people. I found it quite discouraging but then encouraging.
When I held the Minister of State's position, there was no issue that Senators raised more often than direct provision and no issue on which I worked harder. I would love to be the person to declare the end of direct provision. However, when we are dealing with it, we have to work beyond slogans and things that fit neatly into hashtags. Instead, we must deal with reality. We have the McMahon report on direct provision, which was a compromise between several NGOs that felt passionately about this matter and the Department. I was present when the report was launched in July 2015. The Minister for Justice and Equality said it was something to be considered and food for thought. The NGOs that signed off on the report did so at massive risk to their reputations. They are trying hard to improve the system. They thought, in good faith, that the departmental officials would implement the report word for word. It was not a discussion document because the NGOs compromised on issues in respect of which they did not want to compromise, namely, work, oversight and length of stay. When it was signed off, those NGOs felt they could stand over it if it was implemented to the letter. Almost two years on, this has not happened.
This is classic Department of Justice and Equality behaviour. The phrase it always comes back to is "pull factor". It feels that if we show some humanity, we might get pull factor into this country, meaning there might be more of them and what would we do then. This issue should been resolved years ago before we had a housing crisis, an increasing number of asylum applications and before we agreed to take 4,000 Syrian programme refugees. In 2015, at the time of the publication of the report on direct provision, there were 2,695 people who had been in direct provision for over three years. The figure now is 1,200, which means there are 1,500 people fewer in the system than was the case two years ago. That has to be commended. However, how is an NGO going to trust the Department of Justice and Equality and compromise with it on an issue if this report is not implemented?
I am blue in the face saying to the Minister of State that the draft programme for Government contained a commitment to implement the McMahon report. When the actual programme for Government emerged, that sentence had been deleted. I do not know who deleted it. It was not the Minister of State because he did not have this portfolio at the time. Somebody did, however, and I bet it was the Department. I know it has a history of being pretty miserable and unsympathetic when it comes to this entire area. I do not know if we can end direct provision. I do not want to put 4,500 people on a housing list. I do not want to be responsible for stories about vulnerable families being homeless and living in parks under trees. Those were the reports of what happened in 2000. I am not going with hashtags or slogans. However, for God's sake, can we not just implement this report to the letter?
Another issue has been raised in the context of undocumented migrants. It is to the credit of Senator Lawless that he has been working for years to have the undocumented Irish in America regularised. It is to our shame, however, that our entire political system has the brass neck to arrive at the White House to tell the Americans to regularise the undocumented Irish when there are 26,000 undocumented workers here for whom we are not willing to do likewise.
How do we have the gumption or the credibility to ask anybody in that white supremacist, racist regime to do something for the Irish when we will not do it here? We are talking about 26,000 individuals, comprising 20,000 workers and about 6,000 children.
Those are the issues we need to recognise. There is immense goodwill in this country for people from overseas. It comes down to the very essence of who we are as a migrant people. We understand the Syrian situation because we are the people who travelled in coffin ships. We understand the dehumanising of people because of their religious beliefs because that is exactly what the Irish went through in America and in Britain. We understand the signs that said "No blacks, no dogs, no Irish". We understand that stuff instinctively, and that is why I believe no political party will ever go down this line. It would not be to the credit of the Minister of State's Department if this nonsense with the 26,000 undocumented workers were not addressed and if this report were not implemented to the letter. I do not believe the Department of Justice and Equality is fit to deal with this issue, because it has to deal with the issues of Garda reform, the prison service, the vast bulk of legislation that goes through these two Houses, all the equality issues and, on top of that, integration, immigration, refugee and asylum issues. This is a sensitive humanitarian issue and it should be put into a separate Department.
I welcome the strategy, notwithstanding that Migrant Rights Centre Ireland has serious issues with it. I fundamentally believe we are political hypocrites if we end up in the White House again talking about undocumented workers in the US without doing something here. I am not asking the Minister of State to end direct provision, but the least we could do, for God's sake, is to implement the report that we commissioned in conjunction with the NGOs two years ago.
I welcome the Minister of State's constructive statement and the strategy. It sets out the pathway for integration. This is significant because people here often do not understand the issue beyond knowing that people are living in institutions who are known as refugees and they do not interact with them. Any measures we take to facilitate that interaction helps avoid isolation on the part of migrants and lessens the chances of discrimination, but it also promotes understanding. Many of the fears and undesirable attitudes towards migrants stem from a lack of understanding both of the circumstances from which they come and of their different cultures. While we are very proud of our culture and the values we hold dear and that bind us together, notwithstanding differences, many other cultures have different ways of looking at things. That does not diminish their value in any way, and there are great opportunities there.
From the point of view of integration, once a charter or blueprint is set out, we are signalling that these people are valid and legitimate and we are acknowledging there are issues on integration that need to be addressed. When people are embraced and provided for, we are calling on them to be part of our communities and part of our nation, and for them to contribute as well as to enjoy the benefits of living here. That is a very desirable direction in which to travel. Often when we think of migrants we forget that we have children of migrants here who are Irish citizens, and there are children of different coloured skin who do not consider themselves any less Irish than white children. If they feel they are being discriminated against just because of the colour of their skin, what sort of society are we creating for the future and what sort of ghettoisation and discontent are we fostering in people who do not feel we can draw circles of inclusiveness big enough to include all the children of the nation?
I commend the Minister of State on his approach to all things to do with migration. I agree with some who have spoken here. It is not top of a political agenda because migrants do not have a vote, and that is the reality in communities. They are often from very difficult backgrounds and have ended up here. If we take stock by looking at international news, we cannot begin to appreciate and comprehend the difficulties. Syria is very explicit, but we can look at countries that are very impoverished, such as sub-Saharan African countries and Pakistan, and see what people have to live with in their daily life, going from cradle to grave in poverty that we will never know. We enjoy many benefits in our western democracy, notwithstanding that we are always striving to improve it and to improve equality. It gives food for thought. These things should be foremost in our minds when we meet and embrace people of other cultures.
I commend the people of Ballaghaderreen and also Senator Hopkins. She has been to the fore at the beginning and was treading water to begin with because there had been bad reactions to people from different countries coming in and misconceptions of what that would mean. People thought that things were being taken from them, that they were not ready and that we should look after our own first, one among several mantras trotted out. We all know in our own lives that emergencies do not come at convenient times and that we have to rise to the occasion as a humane society. We must do that in a responsible way. When Irish people see that there is a pathway and a way to facilitate people and empower them to participate in our society and to enrich it, it will be considered a very responsible thing to have done. We will reap the rewards of it. We are sowing very good seeds for the future.
In my home town of Ballina and in Castlebar we have welcomed programme refugees, including the Karen people from Burma, and I have to vouch for the community in Mayo that has embraced and helped the children and the adults through the whole culture shock of arriving here after what they had experienced in Burma. In Ballyhaunis there are people from all over the world. It must be the most multicultural place outside of Dublin. From Syrians to Pakistanis to those from eastern Europe and Africa, people are co-existing and working there. It is a fabulous place to go. The people are fantastic. The local GAA gets behind it. The Minister of State has been there. The only blemish there is the direct provision centre, and I would like to see us deal with that issue for the people who have had a question mark over their status for such a long time, in particular the children.
We have three other speakers, so if everyone stays within their allotted time, we will accommodate everyone.
I was fortunate enough to bump into the Minister of State prior to departing for Ragusa on a 40 hour round trip to Sicily to look at migrant reception centres there. I commend the Minister of State and his Department on putting this strategy in place, for it has not arrived a day too early. The crisis of migration across the Mediterranean is in its infancy. I was shocked by the numbers I saw there.
It is instructive to read into the record what has happened. In 2011, fewer than 2,000 people arrived in Pozzallo. By 2014, that number had gone up to 28,000. In 2016, it was at 19,000. This year so far, before the season starts, it is already at 4,168. However, one of the great problems we have in Europe is that, out of 21 countries that attended the seminar laid on by the Italian Government in Ragusa, it is my belief that at least ten of them have no intention of getting involved in reception centres or the integration of migrants.
People are no longer running from Syria. The 19,000 who arrived last year arrived from Eritrea, Guinea, the Gambia, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Sudan and Mali. This year, the majority of the migrants who have arrived in the part of Sicily to which I referred were from Bangladesh, Nigeria and Guinea. There is a crisis in migration and it is hitting the EU and coming at us like a train down the railway tracks. Between 500 and 1,000 people a day are landing in just one port in Sicily. Traffickers are making massive, absolutely unbelievable profits. Refugees, asylum seekers, economic migrants - what are they? We do not know. They do not arrive with papers because any papers they have are taken from them before they embark to sail across the Mediterranean in what are only buckets, to say the very least.
Co-operation in the EU is far from consistent across all countries. I am delighted the Minister of State adverted to the issue of our wanting our own people on the ground out there assessing migrants whom we would bring to Ireland. I brought this up at the meeting and it was met with the most hostile rejection, but I kept my cool and at the end I brought it up again and said we had been told there was a need for solidarity. They wanted solidarity one way but not the other. They wanted us to accept whatever they told us and whatever migrants were sent, but they did not want us to have any say on the ground in Italy. The matter is to come before the Conference of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs of Parliaments of the European Union, COSAC. Perhaps people are wondering why I am bringing this up here, but it is a matter of some urgency. COSAC will meet on 27 May in Malta, when the issue of seconding experts from each of the EU 27 to the refugee reception centres in order that we have experts in migration, experts in medical issues and so on will be discussed. The Irish should have their own migration experts on the ground in Sicily and Greece, if necessary, in order that we can assess for ourselves those who are true refugees who need to come here.
Europe will have to deal with the issue of economic migrants. When tens of thousands of young men come in from Bangladesh claiming asylum, "asylum from what" is asked. These are not my words; I am merely reporting what I saw on the ground out there. There are cases before the European courts at present to stop economic migrants from other countries coming in through the European borders. There is now a desire - to my mind, a good desire - to set up reception centres on the north African coast in order to deal with the issue in north Africa and put the traffickers out of business.
I wish to deal with the issue of migrants who do get here and the document the Minister of State put together. I could sit him in a car-----
-----and take him to parts of Dublin where children attend national and secondary schools in which there is not one white child. They are all migrants. Why do I say this? I say it because we have a problem. It is not the Minister of State's problem. This was in place a long time before he was in place. We have ghettoised-----
Senator Craughwell's time is up.
I will conclude in two seconds. We have ghettoised the problem. We have racism growing at a phenomenal rate and cultural issues in our schools. The absolute rejection of things such as sex education in our schools was reported to me recently. These are issues coming down the line. I wish the Minister of State well with the migrant integration strategy and congratulate him on bringing it forward. I am sorry for taking up time on something I suppose is not related to it but will be with time.
I apologise for missing the Minister of State's speech earlier. I was in the agriculture committee dealing with legislation.
We must always remind ourselves, particularly as public representatives in these Houses, that Ireland is the only country in the world that has a population today lower than it was in the 1800s. That is our history and our reality. It is a history of emigration. In many instances - arguably, in most instances - we were not asylum seekers; we were leaving for economic reasons. We were leaving for work and new opportunities. In the recent economic crisis, the reason our unemployment statistics were not as bad as those in, for example, Spain or Greece, was the escape valve - for Government, the safety valve - of emigration. Huge numbers again emigrated to Canada, Australia, some to the United States and Britain and so on. This has been our history, and despite this history, we probably have the highest levels of emigration of any country in the world historically per capita. Despite this history, our approach to asylum seekers, people who come here in desperation from war-torn areas, has been shameful.
I do not accuse the Minister of State of this because he is someone of integrity who is trying to deal with the system. However, the former Minister of State, Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, hit the nail on the head. We have a deal with the people in the Department of Justice and Equality, who always put in one's ear the words "unintended consequences" and "the pull factor" and argue that if we put in place a humanitarian system of direct provision or whatever, huge numbers will come to Ireland. Ireland is, I think, one of only two countries in the EU that does not allow asylum seekers the right to work. Even after six months, we do not allow them to work. I think the other country in Europe that did not sign up to the EU approach actually had better practices than ours in place and it felt the EU standards were not up to its standards. We are, therefore, the worst offenders in Europe regarding the issue of the right to work, and this has not been addressed. I was Chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions. The Minister of State knows that we visited asylum centres and direct provision centres, and we compiled our reports. I appreciate the Ombudsman has oversight, but so much in those reports remains to be implemented. Even the McMahon report, as the former Minister of State, Senator Ó Ríordáin, said, which represents a compromised position, remains to be implemented. We must do better than this. I will not lay into the Minister of State because he is an honourable man and he cares about this matter as much as I do. However, we must do better and show better leadership on these issues.
I know the Minister of State will meet with Places of Sanctuary Ireland tomorrow and it will make a presentation to the Houses. It has outlined a number of issues, including the right to work, State-funded third level education and the situation whereby children are left blowing in the wind after sitting the leaving certificate. We must do better. Places of Sanctuary Ireland has also identified family reunification and English language provision as issues. The latter is referred to in the Minister of State's migrant integration strategy but, again, we must do better.
I have come across an issue about which I am worried. I refer to the placement of Syrian refugees throughout the State. What is happening is that the Department of Justice and Equality is telling local authorities the number of refugees coming to their areas and that they need to house them. This will create tension unnecessarily. Everyone must work with the scheme of letting priorities - that is, the points system - that is in place. It is a fair and just system for housing allocation, and it is in place across the State. If one bypasses the system, one creates tensions unnecessarily. I urge the Minister of State to consider that the Department of Justice and Equality would have a dedicated housing section that works in co-operation with local authorities to identify properties that are available for the housing assistance payment. This would mean one would not be pitting people on the housing list who are desperate to have housing against incoming refugees. We do not need that tension. There is a way of providing secure, safe housing for refugees without pitting them against people on the housing list, and I ask the Minister of State to consider this through the Department of Justice and Equality.
This is the second time I have had a chance to engage with the Minister of State on this, and I say again that considering our history, of all the nations in the EU, we should be doing so much better and showing much more leadership on these issues.
I welcome the Minister of State to the Seanad and welcome the opportunity to comment on the migrant integration strategy. I also welcome the commitment contained in the strategy to review and reform our legislation to tackle hate crimes, the commitment to place long-term residency on a statutory footing and the provision of funding to community groups and NGOs to foster and promote integration.
I view this issue through the lens of my own migrant experience. Like millions of Irish people, I was an economic migrant. I graduated from UCC in the bleak 1980s when there were no jobs or opportunities. I followed my then boyfriend, now husband, to London. It was a case of family reunification. I stayed there for 17 years.
Migration is a complex issue. It is neither black nor white, all pluses nor all minuses. It is a balance of give and take. Reflecting on my own experience, I contributed to and benefitted from the society in which I lived. During my time in London, I worked and paid taxes - local, the poll tax and even water charges. I was an active citizen who volunteered at the local disability centre and joined and played a role in a political party. My husband was a school governor. We gave back to the community. However, I also signed on, did a postgraduate degree in Southampton with subsidised accommodation, availed of free health care through the NHS, received child benefit and got free books for my children from a local school where 31 languages were spoken. That school played a key role in making me feel like a full participant through intercultural exchange and the type of thoughtful local leadership displayed by Senator Hopkins in her home town of Ballaghaderreen.
From that experience, I have a few questions for the Minister of State on our plans for the integration of migrant communities in Ireland. I am concerned about the habitual residence condition, HRC, which excludes people from supports for their first two years in Ireland. It arises time and again in the homeless sector and often makes a bad situation much worse. How many people are affected by the HRC, how consistently is it applied, what is its core purpose and does that purpose still stand in light of Brexit? In a similar vein, I note there is no mention of any action to support the 26,000 undocumented people in Ireland despite the fact that the Government is pushing for a scheme for the undocumented Irish in the US. I recognise the hypocrisy in this that Senator Ó Ríordáin outlined.
Access to education is a key driver for integration. Migrants and NGOs like Nasc in Cork have long called for the expansion of the free fees initiative to include children of migrant parents who are currently ineligible. Many of these parents, who are working and contributing to the economy, find that they are faced with EU fees when trying to access education for their children. This is unfair and acts as a barrier to education. This is particularly true for children of work permit holders. Will the Minister of State examine this matter?
The definition of "migrant" in the strategy remains narrow. For example, it excludes asylum seekers and there are no measures to address their integration needs. Like many of our EU counterparts, the integration process should begin from the point of arrival, ensuring that those who eventually remain in Ireland having come through the asylum process can make the smooth transition from institutional living in direct provision to life in the community. A report by the Oireachtas petitions committee, chaired by Senator Mac Lochlainn, in May 2015 found that segregationist direct provision was not fit for purpose. This finding was consistent with the McMahon working group report, which was commissioned by Senator Ó Ríordáin and published in June 2016.
Like Senators Lawless, Conway, Ó Clochartaigh, Black, Mac Lochlainn and Ó Ríordáin, I would like to know whether the application process has improved since that report, whether it is still dogged by delays and how many people have leave to remain but are stuck because of a lack of affordable housing. Senator Mac Lochlainn's helpful suggestion is one that should be considered. Is direct provision covered by the Ombudsman? Does freedom of information legislation apply to all of its aspects, including the provision of goods, services and contracts? Given that people are living for years on end in direct provision, will those centres now be inspected by HIQA? Have advances been made on giving people the right to work or programmes to help people who have leave to remain to get employment, training or education? Are there plans to increase the paltry allowance to enable people to live an integrated life? I am aware of inconsistencies. For example, one direct provision centre in Cork has a bus service five times per day whereas another centre has one just once per week.
On a related issue, Ireland has promised to take 4,000 refugees and asylum seekers by September 2017. How close are we to meeting that target? I support Nasc's call for a new, safe and legal migration route for people fleeing conflict and who have someone willing to sponsor them in Ireland. The proposed scheme would introduce a humanitarian admission programme for Irish citizens, beneficiaries of international protection and-or legal residents to apply for family reunification, similar to the Syrian humanitarian admission programme that was introduced for a limited time in 2014. It would also allow members of Irish society to co-sponsor family reunification applications by providing financial, social and institutional backing, thus improving a person's opportunities for integration and easing the financial burden on the host family and the Government. This is a pragmatic, cost effective and efficient solution that ensures the safety of those seeking protection while promoting integration and reuniting families. Many people already legally resident in Ireland are desperately seeking to bring family members out of conflict zones and have adequate resources to support them, but the International Protection Act makes that difficult.
From my first-hand experience as an economic migrant, I know how programmes and strategies can make migration a win-win for people like me, our families and the countries in which we find ourselves. I thank the Minister of State for listening and for giving of his time to this important issue.
I welcome the Minister of State. In his book Good Strategy/Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why it Matters, the American management professor Richard Rumelt says, "strategy is primarily about deciding what is truly important, and focusing resources and action on that objective". With this in mind, I welcome the Government's migration integration strategy. Ensuring that migrants receive all possible State and civic support is essential for their well-being and the well-being of the nation. I welcome the objective of identifying and removing barriers to integration in Ireland and the plan attached to achieve these goals. The 76 specific actions in the strategy are comprehensive. It is encouraging to note that the initiative runs for a four-year period instead of a longer timeframe that could have seen inertia creep in despite the vision expressed in the framework.
Regardless of whether we acknowledge it, a great deal of private and public racism and discrimination still exist in Ireland. There are people in society who have found it difficult to accept the presence of non-nationals who have arrived in the past few decades. In some places, migrants are still seen as a threat and as being different in the way they speak, dress, worship or socialise. They are still seen as the other, as not belonging here, not Irish or just not Irish enough.
Growing pains in a nation facing multiculturalism are not new, but the migration integration strategy is timely, given that it is published against a backdrop of nationalist sentiment around the globe that often seeks to vilify non-nationals, creating associated xenophobia and populism. Indeed, the Irish Government has tightened immigration through the International Protection Act 2015. I recently called for changes in the administrative processes involved so as to give asylum seekers a fairer chance of being considered as future citizens of the State.
The social, economic, cultural and political diversity that multiculturalism brings to Ireland enriches our society and is particularly healthy for young children, who are interacting with peers from a variety of countries. It has brought with it a large number of new denominational, non-denominational and evangelical churches nationwide. Census 2016 shows that the number of Muslims living in Ireland increased from 49,200 to 63,400 over the preceding five years. Members of the Romanian, Lithuanian, Polish, British and other communities have built thriving business enterprises that have created employment opportunities, while highly-skilled migrants are working as barristers, doctors, teachers and other professionals.
The aspirations and actions planned in the integration strategy are comprehensive, but ongoing development and, crucially, funding are needed for its implementation so that we can move from the realm of paper to that of progress. In order for the strategy to succeed, it needs to have greater visibility in the public sphere. I am concerned that it will remain a worthwhile theoretical document full of guiding principles to be consulted as a reference manual but not something to be delivered upon just because people are not aware of it. To transform the integration blueprint into a dynamic entity, it needs to be communicated and debated widely. To this end, it would be worth initiating a public information campaign across radio, television, print and online media. This would sell the strategy's key message to a larger audience, that message being that successful integration is the responsibility of Irish society as a whole and will, to cite the strategy, require "action by Government, public bodies, service providers, businesses, NGOs but also by local communities". It is not a perfect strategy, but it is a good roadmap to have in creating long-lasting intercultural equality.
According to Professor Rumelt, the core content of a strategy is the diagnosis of the difficulty involved, an overall framework for combating the obstacles and coherent, co-ordinated action. This strategy has identified the difficulties involved, provided a framework and outlined a series of actions that need to be taken, and I hope that the Minister of State and the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, will secure as much in resources as is needed and is possible towards implementing it in full.
It would be impossible for me to ignore or not welcome the comments of colleagues in the House about the cruel direct provision system that Ireland still has. I often think of Voltaire's Candide and the idea that it is good to shoot an admiral from time to time "pour encourager les autres". It seems that this is how the direct provision is meant to work - to discourage others by providing for a system that fails to recognise the dignity of each human person.
In February 2017 the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, claimed in the second progress report on the implementation of the McMahon report recommendations that 92% of its recommendations had been implemented. This seems like political spin because, absent the fundamental things such as the right to education, work, and normal family life which are essential to the dignity of a person, the percentage of recommendations implemented simply cannot impress.
We need to rethink what type of society we have. The proclamation in the porch of Leinster House, which Members frequently show to visitors, contains the famous phrase that says we should cherish all the children of the nation equally. It was never meant to refer to underage persons but rather to Protestant, Catholic and dissenter. How can we congratulate ourselves on securing any kind of equality in our country when there is an entire class of people on our shores whose dignity is affronted by the lack of basic rights such as the right to work or prepare a meal for one's children in State-provided accommodation? While we have this system, we have a reason to be thoroughly ashamed of ourselves.
There are many non-State actors who deserve to be commended on their actions while the State fails to get to grips with this situation. My alma mater, the National University of Ireland, Galway, awards inclusive centenary scholarships that give high achievers among the new Irish, including refugees, a chance to go on and succeed in college. I hope the day comes when any young person in Ireland, whether living in a direct provision centre or not and whatever the circumstances in which they came to this country, would not be deprived of the opportunity to better themselves through education because that is the fundamental key to human progress.
I call Senator Alice Mary Higgins. According to Standing Orders, I must call the Minister of State at 6.25 p.m. and Senator Higgins therefore has three minutes.
My remarks will be short. A number of the points I wish to raise have been raised by other Senators. Others have discussed the question of the habitual residency condition and the obstacles it has caused and the problems of the direct provision system, which we still need to move past. The message conveyed by the Minister of State and the migrant integration strategy is very committed and displays very positive sentiments.
There is a need for stronger tangible goals and targets. I recognise some targets have been set in the area of education and employment but in many other areas, the strategy lacks tangible goals. Opportunities for employment have been discussed but the right to work is still an issue. As has been said, Ireland is an extraordinary outlier in not allowing the right to work. That creates extraordinary vulnerability. People cannot make gaps in their lives suddenly or magically disappear when they have spent two, three or seven years in the direct provision or asylum system only to be suddenly told they are now migrants who have opportunities. The asylum process has damaged individuals and families and is still doing so.
The proposal should be explicitly based on a stronger human rights and equality basis. The issue is not individuals integrating but rather Ireland being an equal society. Racism and discrimination, which are the flipside of equality, need to be named more strongly because at a time of much xenophobia and racism across Europe, we need to be robust in having policies that acknowledge discrimination and racism and take action to stem them.
The International Protection Act 2015 brought in a single application procedure. The Act has had chaotic consequences for individuals and families, particularly in recent months, as people struggle to fill in multi-page applications under very tight deadlines with thinly-stretched legal support. There are problems in how we are currently dealing with international protection. A welcoming committee when an applicant comes out the other side is not enough. We need to give genuine and meaningful support to people as they attempt to navigate the process. The International Protection Act has failed to do so and has created difficulty in that regard. It has had very troubling consequences in respect of family reunification because the concept of family that is allowed to most people in this State is not the same as that which is recognised under our current family reunification laws. That is discriminatory.
I welcome the strategy and the signal it sends for Ireland and the role we want to play in positive integration. We are a country of migrants and have an international responsibility to give a positive narration in that regard. I congratulate Senator Hopkins and others who have worked to bring that to a local level. We will be celebrating Africa Day on Sunday, which is another opportunity for us to celebrate the positive aspects that diversity has brought and will continue to bring to our society. I commend all those who have worked on such initiatives.
I have five minutes but I would need five hours to respond to the very good points made by Senators. I would love to engage longer on many points with Senators. Perhaps I will be able to do so individually at a later stage. I thank all Members for their contributions on this very important subject.
The integration strategy committee will shortly be established. It will set out clear targets, goals and so on. I will be chairing the committee. It will have a co-ordinating and monitoring function, which will be a key mechanism for driving and tracking progress of the strategy. Integration is an issue for all of society, not just the Government. Everybody in society is involved as the community and voluntary sector will also be represented on the committee, along with leading NGOs and I look forward to getting stuck in and getting to work on that.
There are many dimensions to this issue, including local level, political level, schools and workplaces. There are countless ways we can relate to one another every day. This strategy represents a long term commitment to proactively addressing the issue. It is intended to be a living document. As its implementation will take place in a changing and dynamic environment, it too must be dynamic in its approach and capable of adaptation when required.
There has been much discussion of direct provision. There are approximately 800,000 people living in the State who were born outside of Ireland. There are approximately 4,500 people in direct provision. Fewer than 600 of those people have been there for more than five years. We want to reduce the time people spend in direct provision and the International Protection Act is doing that. That was the big issue. If decisions are made in a short period, successful applicants will get the right to work sooner than in a protracted asylum process. The amount of time spent in the process, which was the issue, has been reduced. If a person arrives in Ireland tonight and says he or she wants asylum, he or she is guaranteed bed, board, heat, food and safety in a direct provision centre. I have visited most of them. We are working extremely hard to upgrade them. Can any Senator tell me what we can put in their place that would work if people were to arrive to Ireland tonight and claim asylum? Where would those people go? Should they be given vouchers or money? What should be done? People criticise direct provision. Many people have never been in a centre or have not been in a centre recently to see the changes that have taken place such as that families are now permitted to cook for themselves. We want to move people out of these centres by making a decision on their status, after which either they can stay here or they must go back to where they came from. We also need an immigration policy. Not everybody who arrives here has a right to stay here so we must keep that in mind.
I substantially addressed the issue of funding in my opening remarks. There is funding available. Each Department is supposed to come up with its own funding. Each Department, such as the Departments of Education and Skills, Health and so on, is also putting funding into this.
I take the point Senators raised about dedicating housing. We are trying hard to house people. There are approximately 400 people currently in direct provision for whom we cannot find homes. The Department is working very hard on that issue. We are trying to find another emergency reception and orientation centre, EROC. The EROCs we have are filling up very quickly. We have attempted to obtain new EROCs but cannot do so. I also have asked NGOs if they are interested in running direct provision centres. I am waiting for any of them to agree to do so. Other countries do that. If an NGO can prove it can run a direct provision centre, it is welcome to do so.
The issue of habitual residence condition will have to be revisited. I am very aware of the issue of undocumented migrants and work is under way on it. Third-level fees are addressed in the strategy. It is recognised as an issue and will have to be considered. Our strategy attempts to address it.
The issue of language acquisition is very important. Senator Hopkins mentioned the good work in Ballaghaderreen. There was initial concern but the Senator is correct that the people of Ballaghaderreen stepped up to the plate and are a positive example for the rest of the country.
I get more people contacting me to ask how they can help and what they can do to assist. Many community groups do that. We get many people looking for small sums of money from the community integration fund. A lot can be done with a small sum of money if there is goodwill behind it, so I want to give people help to do that.
If Senators know about specific issues and problems, I want to know about them. I would ask them, please, not to make speeches in the Chamber based on a generalisation but to give me specifics. If there is a family or individual under pressure in a direct provision centre or if there is something going wrong, I ask them to tell me. I ask also that they please check before that the information is up to date, that it is not something that happened three or four years ago, that it is not a "dúirt bean liom go ndúirt bean léi" type of thing, and that it is true and happening. I want to know, as do the officials, and we want to move quickly if something is happening that should not be and is a cause for concern. I promise we will move on it, but I ask Senators if they could, please, be careful about repeating things they have read in the newspapers or that was heard somewhere else. They should give me specific examples with names, dates and places and I promise I will follow up on them.
I thank Senators for their engagement. I ask them to keep thinking, supporting and working and to stay positive. There are many good things happening and many very good people are coming to Ireland who can really contribute and be part of our society, but we must integrate and work together. There are 800,000 people who have come to Ireland and 100,000 new citizens in the last while. The citizens' ceremonies were mentioned. They are amazing and absolutely emotional. If Senators have not been to one, they should try to get to one and they will see what is happening there. Let us try to be positive in our approach. Senator Mullen mentioned what was happening in the Mediterranean and other places, which is unbelievable. We are worried about the global situation and what is happening in Africa and beyond. There are huge challenges. We will do our bit as a small country to try to influence change, but the challenges are enormous. I do not know where it will end up but there is no doubt that Europe is under pressure.